Hiring good people is getting a lot harder, and not just because there are fewer candidates in a lot of industries. With AI-enabled cheating, grade inflation, and the shunning of standardized tests by colleges and graduate schools, how is a hiring manager supposed to know who’s a good fit?

My prediction: Good companies will have to think more like creative investigators to figure out who’s smart at their work, and who’s just smart at beating the system. They will have to rely less on outsourcing the evaluation of people through grades and school brands.

ChatGPT Makes. Stuff. Up.

Do you want candidates to write you an essay? I wrote recently on our other blog The Divorce Asset Hunter that when it comes to researching individual people or situations instead of something more general, ChatGPT just punts – it refuses to engage. ChatGPT doesn’t think – it mimics what others have written about a topic. If your topic is obscure (“What’s the reputation of this business owner in Maryland who wants to borrow $3 million?” or “What’s this 25 year old MBA student like?”) You are out of luck with ChatGPT.

And if the topic is a more general one that AI wants to try, look out. A respected litigator in New York I know named Stephen Brodsky reported last week that a client had sent him some legal research to incorporate into a brief. His report, posted on LinkedIn:

A few weeks ago, a client emailed me a list of case citations, asking me to include them in a brief I was writing for his litigation. When I checked them, they didn’t come up. Each time, I thought I mistyped the cite. One after the other. Then I realized – THEY DID NOT EXIST. When I asked my client who gave him the “citations,” he said he had tried out Chat GPT.

Brodsky concluded: “It. Made. The. Cases. Up. My. Client. Thought. They. Were. Real.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: As Brodsky demonstrated and as I discovered as a financial journalist, the fun is in the footnotes. If someone hands you something they’ve written, query them on the footnotes. Do the citations exist? Did they really read the material they are citing? I would avoid take-home assignments and make people write something over the course of a couple of hours right there near you, minus an internet connection and phone of course. Give the candidate an hour to write up how they would approach a particular problem.

We All Live in Lake Wobegon Now

What about screening people to see who gets the in-person test above? What about their academic record?

Cheating is becoming increasingly common at universities, as detailed in this Free Press article recently. It’s easier than ever, both because of ChatGPT and lazy teachers who give the same exam for decades.

Standardized tests at many colleges are either optional or part of a “test blind” admissions process. By 2025, the LSAT may be optional for law schools admitting prospective lawyers.

Even before the elimination of standardized testing, there was a problem at universities in that they had inflated grades to such an extent that reality had caught up with Garrison Keillor’s made-up Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.” Yale went from the place that John Kerry and George W. Bush got a lot of C’s and Kerry even got four D’s to a place where an A average was not far off the norm.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If schools are handing out A’s like participation trophies, give the A’s the same weight an athletic recruiter would give a participation trophy. If they are going to be litigators, give them a tough evidence problem and see how they do. Whatever the position they’re up for, throw an ethical problem their way. If it looks like they would do the wrong thing if they could get away with it, find someone else. And whatever you do, use made-up names and places so that in the event they are allowed to bring the test home they can’t have the computer generate an answer.

A New Rigor for Checking References

If it’s not their first job, you can always call up former employers. I am not a big fan of calling just the references a prospect submits, because what are the chances you submit the name of someone who fired you or was happy to see the last of you in that office? If there are gaps in the resume (even just a month or two between jobs), find out whether there was another job in there that didn’t work out. Then find out why.

THE TAKEAWAY: You can’t depend on transcripts, school admission departments, and a lot of take-home or internet-assisted essays. Calling only the references a candidate submits is a rigged game. YOU the hirer need to devise the tests and the lists of people to call.

It’s that or get ready for even higher turnover in the years to come.